Photo Courtesy of JMU Athletics Communications
By Daniel Merriman
James Madison University started its season undefeated in non conference play. The Dukes were one of the final remaining undefeated squads in the nation and were on a roll until conference play came.
JMU is now 6-3 in Sun Belt play (18-3 overall). It is currently tied for third in the Sun Belt with Marshall, Louisiana, and Southern Miss. Let’s take a look at what has gone wrong during conference play for the Dukes of JMU.
JMU has shot incredibly poorly to open up conference play. Through nine games James Madison is shooting 30% from 3 point territory which is 7% less than their out of conference mark of 37% against Division I opponents.
The three point percentage plummets even further when you discuss teams that are .500 or better in Sun Belt play. JMU is shooting a shade under 22% from deep when they play good teams in conference affairs. They make 4.2 of their 19.2 3 point attempts in contests against those quality conference teams.
The Dukes are 2-3 against conference opponents who have a winning record and are 16-0 versus everyone else on their schedule. The better the competition the more James Madison’s outside shooting becomes a liability which has led to losses.
Head Coach Mark Byington has not been all too pleased with JMU’s shot selection as of recent. “We competed, we played hard, we played the right way as far as our mentality and our attacking,” Byington said after the App State loss in Boone, NC to Dave Riggert. “But we’ve got to play a little smarter in some areas.”
This weak spot in the Dukes’ offensive output has been exploited thoroughly. JMU has struggled to pass the ball out of the lane and shot fake in its losses. James Madison has been blocked on average 8 times a game in their 3 losses. For comparison, the Dukes are getting blocked only 3.3 times a night in SBC games that they win.
The Dukes are also not sharing the ball well when they lose. In every game that JMU has lost, it has an assist to turnover ratio less than 1, meaning they turn the ball over at roughly the same clip as they assist on a basket. Consistently, the shot selection has been somewhat questionable when there is an uptick in competition.
The major tests in the 2023-2024 schedule came incredibly early in the year. Since the Southern Illinois game the only top 150 KenPom team James Madison has faced is App State. It has lost to the Mountaineers twice in the past three weeks.
This is not an ideal look for JMU as they pursue an NCAA tournament automatic bid through a trip to Pensacola that finishes in holding a trophy. Unfortunately, the Dukes at large bid conversation is all but snuffed after losing to App twice.
Reasons for Optimism
James Madison is still poised to make a deep push in the conference tournament. JMU has the best overall record in the league at 18-3.
Additionally, the Dukes have been playing some of their best defense as of recently. JMU is holding their conference opponents to 28% from 3 point range. It is also forcing turnovers at a very high clip. The Dukes opponents are averaging an assist to turnover ratio of 0.75 in conference contests.
Quincy Allen, a key rotational piece, has not played in eight weeks and Michael Green III appears to be bouncing back from the worst shooting slump of his career. Plenty of factors have limited the Dukes offensive production in the past month. However with their current level of defense, James Madison’s hibernating offense could rear its head when needed come March.